The recent coverage of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant’s rise in Iraq has shocked many Americans — seemingly suddenly, a tragic turn of events has unfolded just as Iraq looked stable. After all, we had left a sovereign state in 2011 with a democratic government under a leader we had installed.
But the emergence of ISIL as a potent force is anything but an accident.

A series of recurrent events since our invasion of Iraq has brought us to this precarious outcome, leaving us struggling to determine if and how we can save the deteriorating nation.

ISIL seeks to rapidly establish a caliphate, persecute divergent factions of Islam (often through gruesome means including decapitating and crucifying dissenters) and target the United States with multiple 9/11-style attacks.

The group is highly disciplined, claiming key territories like Mosul, the second largest city in Iraq, and enjoying financial windfalls through extortion and bank robberies. It rules by a combination of fear and ingratiation, instituting a “convert or die” order for minority Christian groups, while distributing sweets during Eid and establishing basic infrastructure. The Islamic State ruler, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, motivates through the use of fiery tactics derived from works like “The Management of Savagery.”

It can hardly be argued that this regime, were it to take hold and establish sovereignty in any country of the Middle East, would be better than that of Saddam Hussein. And it seems obvious that these guys are serious about building a functional state by seizing resources, profiting from the existing sectarian divisions in Iraq to recruit more followers and by exploiting the vulnerabilities of a war torn Syria in order to grab territory on that front.

ISIL operates using calculated, strategic moves beyond the scope of prior extremist groups, leading former ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker to call them “al-Qaida version 6.0.”

How did we arrive at such a drastic turn of events?

The root of the conflict in Iraq is sectarian tension between the Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds, factions that have fought throughout the sometimes tempestuous history of the region. But after the United States invaded the nation, the decisions we made after ousting Hussein exacerbated the divide among these demographics.

Hussein’s Iraq, ruled by a Sunni Muslim minority, oppressed the Shiites and Kurds for decades. And when we overthrew the regime, we expelled all of the 30,000 to 50,000 Sunni Ba’ath Party members that had formed Hussein’s bureaucracy from their positions — whether as teachers or senior party leaders. In doing so, we created a faction of the population that is resentful of American occupation and increasingly willing to turn to extreme measures and extreme leadership in order to reinstate some level of self-governance.

When we hurriedly hosted elections, voter turnout among the Shiites was overwhelmingly high, but only 10 percent of Sunnis arrived to cast their ballots. The U.S. forces saw an ebb and flow of success in stabilizing the country, reaching the highest level of control under David Petraeus’s surge strategy, which included a crucial tactical decision to draft the services of 100,000 Sunni soldiers who had previously fought vigorously against American armed forces.

Nouri al-Maliki, however, decided to consolidate his power by expelling Sunnis from his government, and by increasingly oppressing them as time went on. When American troops left in an arbitrarily declared deadline in 2011, “letting the chips fall where they may,” the sectarian tensions were reaching an all-time high, leaving ISIL — a Sunni militant group — to rise to the occasion.

Our rebuilding efforts ought to have consisted of a more inclusive coalition government backed by a leader who understood the fragility of Iraqi society, and the United States ought to have stayed in the region long enough to create a stabilized administrative infrastructure.

Even a regime that faces as much corruption as Iraq has learned that the only way to weather centuries-old differences that permeate complex cultures is to promote participation in government. We and the sovereign Iraqi government forgot about these essential facts of democratic operation, and we are now suffering the consequences.

At home, the only way to solve these issues is to make the tough, yet necessary choices, and avoid falling into domestic political potholes that can potentially endanger our national security.

If we enter into a decade-long conflict, we need to ensure that we follow through and establish stability. It’s clear that ignoring the realities of war is dangerous not only to the occupied territory’s population, but also to our own people and nation, lest groups like ISIL manifest themselves.

ParthShahParth Shah is a junior in the College. Politics of Parth appears every other Tuesday.

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